Faculty Presents Research on Counselors’ Acute Stress Reaction

On April 3, Dr. Benjamin Kelch, Affiliate Professor in the College of Adult and Graduate Studies,  presented his research on the “Development of Acute Stress Reaction in Substance Abuse Counselors After Learning of the Accidental Overdose Death of Their Patients: A Series of Six Cases.” The presentation was attended by OCU faculty, students, and members of the community.  

While Kelch was pursuing his doctorate degree, the university was offering a service called “Therapy for the Therapist.”  He was intrigued by the statistics on opiates being a leading cause of accidental death and wanted to know the effects those deaths might be having on the substance abuse counselors. Kelch was able to provide therapy to six counselors who each were experiencing an acute stress reaction after the accidental overdose death of a client.

“Most counselors are trained to keep ’clinical distance.’ However that is often difficult because you tend to ’click’ with some clients,” Kelch said.

His patients had various reactions to the deaths of their clients including: a sense of numbness, dreaming, avoidance, derealization, dissociative amnesia, and reduction in awareness. Even though their symptoms differed, after clinical evaluation they all met the criteria for acute stress disorder. Kelch used cognitive-behavioral therapy as treatment.

“The two techniques of challenging their irrational beliefs and cognitive restructuring to get them to see the events in a different light were those I feel helped these clients the most,” Kelch said.

He conceded that stress in unavoidable and some professions have more than others. However, the question is relevant to all: how are you going to handle stress? Kelch believes building your Christian foundation is vital to a mental well-being.

“One of the best methods of overcoming stress is to have an ongoing relationship with Christ and to turn your burdens over to him.”

Dr. Kelch holds a degree in Osteopathic Medicine, and a master’s degree of community counseling from the University of Dayton. He has completed doctoral coursework for a degree in counselor education and supervision and is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Kelch also is currently serving a Clinical Counseling Residency at an Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Chillicothe, Ohio.